GENEVA — More than 2 million refugees have fled Syria's violence in an exodus that shows no sign of letting up and could destabilize neighboring countries, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.
Antonio Guterres, head of the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said an average of almost 5,000 citizens a day are flowing out of Syria, many of them with little more than the clothes they are wearing.
What's particularly alarming, Guterres said, is that number of refugees has surged by 1.8 million in just 12 months — up from almost 231,000 a year ago.
"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century," Guterres said of the civil war that began as a rebellion against President Bashar Assad's regime in March 2011. "The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighboring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees."
As of the end of August, the agency counted 716,000 refugees in Lebanon, 515,000 in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq, and 110,000 in Egypt. It said over half of them were children.
Another 4.25 million people have been displaced within Syria, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
More than 97 per cent of Syria's refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region, which is overwhelming their infrastructures, economies and societies and making them in need of urgent outside help, the agency said in a statement.
Ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey were planning to meet with agency officials Tuesday in Geneva in an effort to gain greater international support.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate," said the agency's special envoy, actress Angelina Jolie, "the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighboring countries could be brought to the point of collapse."
© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.